Ontario says it will provide funding for in-vitro fertilization indefinitely, ending months of concern and confusion among patients and clinics who were worried the program would be cut by Premier Doug Ford’s government.
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed fertility clinics will receive a new allotment of funding on April 1, as they have each year since the program began.
Ontario spends $50-million a year on in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which helps thousands of patients who are hoping to conceive a child. The program, announced in December, 2015, provides patients under the age of 43 with a once-per-lifetime chance to have an IVF cycle paid for by the province.
Tom Hannam, founder of the Hannam Fertility Centre in Toronto, said news the province will continue to fund IVF is a welcome relief for clinics and patients. Earlier this week, Dr. Hannam sent a letter informing patients the future status of the funded IVF program was up in the air and that, in the meantime, the clinic would discontinue its wait list. Then, on Wednesday, he received confirmation from the government that the program would continue.
“It’s an unchanged program,” Dr. Hannam said. “It looks like it’s permanent.”
Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government created the IVF program in 2015, and many in the fertility community feared the Progressive Conservative government would decide to end it in an attempt to find cost savings.
"A lot of patients had worries," Dr. Hannam said.
In the past, fertility clinics in Ontario received a notice from the government by the end of February confirming the new funding for the province’s fiscal year that begins April 1. When that didn’t happen this year, it created some worry. But Hayley Chazan, press secretary for Ms. Elliott, said it’s not necessary to formally announce or confirm the funding each year because it’s an “evergreen” program that will continue “unless terminated or amended.”
“Clinics funded under the [Ontario Fertility Program] have not been notified about any change in funding for the coming fiscal year as their current agreements continue on an ongoing basis,” Ms. Chazan wrote in the e-mail to The Globe.
Tara Wood, board member of Conceivable Dreams, an advocacy group, said there were widespread worries the funded IVF program would end.
“Given their focus on efficiency and cost, that certainly was a concern,” Ms. Wood said.
She noted that funded IVF programs can help the health system save money in the long run, as it results in fewer multiple births, which are linked to a higher risk of complications and lengthier hospital stays.
The cost for one IVF cycle starts at around $10,000, which is cost prohibitive for many. The government-funded program is the only hope some people in Ontario have for a family, Ms. Wood said. Patients who are undergoing a funded IVF cycle still have to cover many costs that can quickly add up to thousands of dollars, including the cost of fertility drugs, storing sperm, eggs or embryos and the cost of genetic testing.
Under the program, fertility clinics in Ontario receive a share of the IVF fund and are responsible for managing wait lists and patient demand. The funding cap ensures the cost of the program never balloons out of control, as it did in Quebec before the province’s funded IVF program was discontinued in 2015. But it also means demand for IVF in Ontario outstrips the supply of available spots, Dr. Hannam said.
Ms. Wood, who is currently undergoing IVF, said this funded program is vital, especially considering more people are having children later. According to Conceivable Dreams, infertility affects one in six Ontario couples.
“Infertility is a medical issue,” she said. “It’s not a nice to have. It’s a need to have for most people.”